WE KNEW BOOTS WAS DYING
By: Christina J. Johns

Boots had lost a great deal of weight. He was, in fact, skeletal. The doctors had doubled the morphine/ three times/ over three days, and the chemo had left him bald, without the long, straggly hair he had sported for over thirty years. We all knew he was dying.

But the Spraggins family, true to form, arranged themselves around the hospital room, talking and laughing and telling stories as if it wasn't going to happen.

And I must admit, like them, somewhere in the back of my mind, I kept feeling like Boots was going to open his eyes, tell us it was all a big joke, and walk out - looking for a beer.

He did something like that the night they started the morphine. Boots got up out of bed, and walked toward the door. He then turned around and looked at Nida.

"Come on mama." He said. "Let's just get out of here."

(Pause)

"Boots, you're making mama cry." Teri, his sister, responded

Boots had started doing drugs early. He started drinking even earlier. During almost all of his adolescent and adult life he drank, took pills, smoked dope, and occasionally shot up. Sometimes he did them all at the same time. Boots was the kind of drug user who would mainline boiled down shoe laces if he couldn't find anything else.

But Boots seemed to lead a charmed life, even with all the physical abuse he put his body through. There were some close calls, but Boots just always came back.

"He'll never live past 20." We'd say. "Boots? He'll never see 30."

But Boots lived to be forty-three, never holding one job. I don't think he ever even went more than fifty miles outside of Prattville, where he was born.

He lived with his mama just about all his life. To his credit, when they took him to the hospital, he'd moved out. He was living in a trailer right behind hers. He threw his beer cans out the windows and he and Nida shared an enormous satellite dish.

So Boots smoked, drank, popped pills and spent his time watching movies like the Texas Chain saw Massacre. I never could figure those movies. Boots was one of the most gentle people I had ever known. He was like a child really - generous trusting and sweet. And he never once hurt anybody.

Who knows why he turned out the way he did. Maybe it was starting to drink at the age of nine at the Shangrala, his parents "nightclub." It was really more like a large shack in rural Lee County.

Boots'd drink and entertain people most of the day.

After the Shangrala closed he'd steal the keys and spend the rest of the night drinking in the empty nightclub. Sometimes, back during my husband's wilder days (and believe me there were some wild ones), Gayle would join Boots for an all-nighter.

Boots and Gayle would be laying around the Shangrala, trashed by morning. And Nida'd be mad as hell.

Maybe Nida was why Boots turned out the way he did. He was there, watching, the night Nida killed his father at the Shangrala. She shot him point black in the face, twice with a .357 magnum, then she stood over him and emptied the gun.

The Lee County Sherif was not only there, he drank free at the Shangrala every night, so Nida was never even charged.

But, whatever happened to Boots's, his family stood behind him. They bailed him out, sobered him up, dried him out, and made him eat. So, he lived most of his life drunk, stoned, or both, and completely detached from the rest of the world.

Gayle went up to the trailer once and mentioned the Gulf War.

"War?" Boots said. "We in a war?" He turned around, leaned out the window and hollered to Nida in the next trailer. "Mama, you know we was in a war?"

"With who?" Nida yelled back.

It just seemed to me, standing there looking at him, like Boots never had a life. It was over, and it never really began. Maybe when he got up and said: "Come on Mama. Let's just get out of here." He meant out of this life and into something else, something better. I hope so. And I hope somewhere, something holds his spirit with tenderness.


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